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Library Staff Asked to Censor Book

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

To offend or to censor: That is the question.

Caught in the middle of a minor controversy, Oxnard Public Library staff members Wednesday discussed whether they should buy a book that has been labeled anti-Semitic and racist by the Anti-Defamation League.

The book, “There’s a Fish in the Courthouse,” by Gary L. Wean, purports to chronicle the inner workings of the Ventura County government and court system in the middle to late 1970s.

In the 300-page manuscript, Wean states such things as the Holocaust was a “scam” that became “big business” and that there was a conspiracy against him by “Jew Judges” in the Ventura County Courthouse.

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After the book was endorsed by City Council candidate Roy Lockwood at a recent council meeting, the library received one written request to buy the $29.95 volume and several calls from Oxnard residents asking that the library not purchase it.

At the council meeting, Oxnard resident Jim Reach said the book was offensive and racist.

Library staff members decided Wednesday to appoint three librarians to read the book, review criticism of it and recommend whether it should be stocked. They expect a recommendation within a month.

The librarians are confronted with the delicate task of deciding what types of books should be available to the public. With their decision, they risk offending some residents or effectively censoring books that are controversial.

“If people are concerned, one has to respect and give due deliberation,” said Peggy O’Donnell, one of the three librarians who will read and review the book.

“There’s hardly a thing that someone wouldn’t take offense to,” she added. “Any time you deal with ideas, you are going to have people getting offended.”

The controversy began when Lockwood, a 75-year Oxnard resident who has run unsuccessfully for public office since 1972, praised the book to the council, calling it an informative account of how Ventura County government works and suggesting the library acquire it.

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On Wednesday, Lockwood, asked about the issue, said: “No comment.”

Wean, who ran unsuccessfully for the Ventura County Board of Supervisors in 1988, states in the book that he is the victim of “a crazy Jewish plot to destroy me.” The book was published by Casitas Publishing.

In addition to other criteria when purchasing a book, the Oxnard Library considers the permanent value of the volume to the community, the author’s credibility and attention given by reviewers. Due to funding cutbacks, the book’s price is also considered, O’Donnell said.

Reach said the library should not buy the book because it has no redeeming social value and only contributes to anti-Semitism. Although Reach admits he is supporting a form of censorship in this instance, he says it is for the public good.

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“The library can’t carry every single book that is published,” Reach said. “I draw the line at a book which is filled with lies and makes members of my faith in this community the villains for every judicial and political action that has occurred.”

Roni Blau, director of the Anti-Defamation League in the San Fernando Valley, said the organization, which has labeled the book anti-Semitic and racist, condemns its distribution. But Blau said that as “advocates of the 1st Amendment, [the ADL] would not tell the library not to carry the book.”

However, Blau added, the library should make a clear distinction between Holocaust revisionist theories and factual literature.

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“Wean has been spouting this anti-Semitic rhetoric for years,” Blau said.

Douglas E. Mirell, an American Civil Liberties Union board member and private attorney who specializes in 1st Amendment cases, said that because the book is not already on the library’s shelves, the decision is really a matter of following purchasing guidelines and not a 1st Amendment issue.

“Not having been already purchased, this really becomes a matter of policy whether you want to open up your forum to this kind of book,” said Mirell, who practices in Los Angeles. “Anyone is free to express their opinion on whether a book is or is not appropriate. . . . It is purely a matter of personal predilection.”

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A recent article in American Libraries magazine said there has been a nationwide increase in individuals and groups asking libraries to remove books they consider offensive. The article said that many librarians were “worried about a general climate of intolerance for unpopular views and minorities.”

Yet nearly 90% of the librarians questioned in the survey for the article said they have not withdrawn a book because of a community request.

“We don’t have to agree with everybody’s point of view,” said Oxnard librarian Adrienne Morse, who will also review the book. “We trust our readers.”

Morse noted that the public library carries the complete works of Adolf Hitler, which could also be found offensive to many people.

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Added O’Donnell: “You can’t have a public library that has only one point of view.”

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